The X-Files — excitement and fear

IDW Publishing in the US is releasing three volumes of short stories based on the television series The X-Files. These anthologies are being edited by New York Time best-selling author Jonathan Maberry. The first book, Trust No One, is set for release on 28 July 2015. Volumes two and three will follow in 2016.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, firstly I’m a bit of a fan of The X-Files and I love short stories. Having the two combined is pretty cool, and I am very much looking forward to reading them.

Secondly, I’ve written a story for volume three. :-) Titled “An Eye For An Eye”, it’s set during the first season of the series.

Writing for a franchise like this is both an exciting and scary thing. Exciting, because I finally get to play in a sandbox that I have admired from afar. Scary, because there is such an excellent body of work to attempt to fit into.

The fear came first. Would I be able to write something that lives up to the legacy of the series and the expectations of other fans? I overcame this fear with research.

Getting the opportunity to write this story gave me the excuse to go out and buy the series on DVD (hooray for tax deductable expenses). I then binge-watched the entire first season to remind myself of the characters, their nuances and their world. It was a fascinating experience. I had forgotten about Mulder’s obsession with slides. He was always showing slides to Scully. And there was more humour than I remembered. The banter between Scully and Mulder was dry and witty and priceless. Immersing myself in season one was invaluable… it dispelled the fear and engaged the excitement.

I loved writing this story so much.

But now the excitement has worn off and the fear has returned. I wrote this story in December 2014, but publication is still a fair distance away in 2016. And I can’t help worrying about things going wrong. What if my story isn’t good enough? What if the anthology gets cancelled? What if my story gets dropped? What if? What if?

A writer’s life is full of uncertainties. And doubts. And fears. In the larger scheme of my writing career, this story is a small thing. But my fanboy nature can’t keep it in perspective. As a fan, this experience is such a BIG THING! So I will have difficulty sleeping, I will fret and I will doubt until I actually hold that anthology in my hands some time in 2016.

And then I shall be excited all over again.

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Lots of lovely reviews have been floating around about the YOU CHOOSE books, so I thought I’d share some recent ones here on my blog.

I’ll start with my favorite review. From the Weekend Advocate in NSW, it focuses on nostalgia …

The ReadPlus website has published reviews of quite a number of my books. The latest review from Sue Warren is for the two current YOU CHOOSE titles, Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars and Night of the Creepy Carnival

“George has cleverly taken all the great aspects of gaming and transformed them into book form where readers can challenge themselves to achieve the end goal. While primarily aimed at Middle Primary to Upper Primary these can be enjoyed by readers of all ages and certainly, if you have readers who struggle these would be a superb choice as the level of engagement and the appeal of the subject matter are perfect.”

Read the full review.

Earlier this year ReadPlus also published a review by Barbara Braxton of the two previous titles, Maze of Doom and The Haunting of Spook House. This review focuses on the potential educational aspects of the books…

“The appeal and importance of gaming within the formal education setting is becoming the focus of a lot of research and literature and this series provides a great foundation to actively engage and explore options.”

“As well as offering an engaging read, skilled teachers could use these books as models for an absorbing, integrated project that would draw in their writers, their illustrators, their mathematicians, their computer experts, and their gamers to create something new that accentuates the need for a team, encourages negotiation and compromise as well as the skills of seeing things from another perspective and looking for alternatives, and perhaps, even, the concept of empathy.”

And it concludes with:

“So glad this format is back on the reading agenda of the younger readers in my life.”

Read the full review.

There have also been some lovely comments on social media. On FaceBook, Rochelle Llewelyn Nicholls said:

“I read the seminal Choose Your Own Adventure books while at school in the 80s. Your books have brought those wonderful concepts back into vogue with the kids at the library where I work now. Some of them read nothing else! George, your books have been a crucial part of our strategy to engage kids aged 8-12 and tempt them away from digital distractions back to good old print books. The interactive nature of the books makes them great for group reading sessions and they are just scary enough for the kids to think they are cool.”

And finally, there’s this video review from Hillcrest Christian College, for the two upcoming YOU CHOOSE books, Super Sports Spectacular and Trapped in the Games Grid — it’s on their FaceBook page.

ADDENDUM — 7 July 2015
And this lovely review from an 8-year-old showed up in the Western Australian. :-)

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Let there be CAKE!

It’s publication day! Books 5 and 6 in the YOU CHOOSE series have hit the bookstore shelves. With the start of this series last year, I decided that I needed a little publication day tradition. And so, on each publication day I’ve gone out to buy a small cake or pastry, photographing said culinary delight with a candle and the books in question, so that I can spam the Internet. Then, of course, I eat the cake. :-)

Today, I’ve got an Opera Slice from Jacques Depot de Pain. YUM!

And so, as I stuff my face with heavenly layers of pastry, chocolate and coffee cream, let me bid welcome to Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars. I wish you both a long life of being well read and enjoyed.

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REAL Award Shortlist

You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove has made it onto the shortlist for the REAL awards in the category of “Fiction For Younger Readers”. REAL stands for Reading & Enjoying Australian Literature. Books on the REAL shortlist have been nominated by kids across the country. And the shortlist is then voted on by kids in a series of separate state-based awards — the YABBAs (Young Australians Best Book Awards) in Victoria; the KOALAs (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards) in New South Wales; the COOL Awards (Canberra’s Own Outstanding List Awards) in the ACT; and the KROC Awards (Kids Reading Oz Choice Awards) in the Northern Territory.

What an amazing set of acronymous awards!

I am delighted and honoured and excited for my book to be on the “Fiction For Younger Readers” shortlist along with…

  • Alice Miranda in Japan by Jacqueline Harvey
  • Andy Roid and the Avalanche of Evil by Felice Arena
  • Billie B Brown: The Bully Buster by Sally Rippin (illustrated by Aki Fukuoka)
  • Don’t Look Now Book 4 by Paul Jennings & Andrew Weldon
  • EJ12: Time to Shine by Susannah McFarlane
  • Our Australian Girl: Meet Grace by Sofie Laguna (illustrated by Lucia Masciullo)
  • Our Australian Girl: Meet Letty by Alison Lloyd (illustrated by Lucia Masciullo)
  • Pizza Cake by Morris Gleitzman
  • The Lost Circus: The Last Elephant by Justin D’Ath

Such wonderful company!

The full shortlist of all categories is available from the YABBA website.

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You Choose 8

Time for another cover reveal — You Choose 8: Trapped in the Games Grid. Artist James Hart has picked up on the TRON influences to create this rather AWESOME illustration…

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The Somerset Experience

It’s one of those literary events that all kids’ authors talk about. It’s one that everyone wants to attend. And this year I was lucky enough to be invited along as a speaker to the Somerset Celebration of Literature.

Held on the Gold Coast by Somerset College, it is open to students from other schools, with kids in their thousands flocking to hear authors share their writing experiences. Three days of literary goodness with over 30 authors.

Did it live up to my expectations? No — it surpassed them.

It got off to a wet start with the Gold Coast hitting its visiting authors with a downpour. But as the rain dried up, the heat rose and the humidity climbed… higher and higher and ever higher. My smaller sessions were in air-conditioned classrooms. Cool! But my two larger sessions were in the Great Hall — up on a stage. Everyone knows that heat rises. I was literally dripping with sweat when I finished my sessions there.

A little uncomfortable, yes. But also memorable. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. The perspiration-drenched performances certainly contributed to the whole rock-star experience!

And really, for three days, that’s exactly how I felt… like a Rock Star! Not that I actually have any idea what real rock stars experience (I suspect there may be more alcohol, illicit substances and room trashing involved. Oh… and probably some music.). But in my mind it was akin to what it might be like for them. Sweat-soaked appearances on stage. Cheering crowds. Long autograph queues. Photo requests. Enthusiastic fans. And the festival bookstore almost sold out of my You Choose books — only two left after the dust had settled.

As you may have guessed, I had a ball. The students were engaged, enthusiastic and intelligent, asking great questions and getting involved in discussions. I also met a whole bunch of wonderful teachers and librarians. They too had great questions, and I had some wonderful post-session conversations about reading, writing and teaching.

There were also, of course, the other authors. I got to meet writers whose work I admire. I had fun green-room chats. I got to hang out with my fellow Random House authors. And, when I wasn’t presenting myself, I attended some of their sessions. Wow! So many different styles, so many wonderful speakers — from RA Spratt’s theatricality to Jen Storer’s simple and straightforward connection to her audience. I wish I had been able to attend more sessions, as there is always so much to learn from other presenters.

There are two speakers that I really must single out.

Melissa Keil, author of Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, spoke about her writing with the aide of a comprehensive Powerpoint presentation. I’ve always avoided using Powerpoint for fear of speaking to the slides rather than the audience. Melissa’s presentation showed how to use Powerpoint effectively while still engaging with your audience. At no point were the slides distracting. In fact, they added a lot to what Melissa was saying. And hearing her speak about geek culture, which is an important part of her writing, inspired me to head straight for the bookstore after her session. Mind you, at one point I almost jumped to my feet and raced to the front of the room to argue with her about the latest season of Doctor Who. Her opinion differs from mine and it took great restraint on my part to stay silent in my seat. :-) Well… in my humble opinion Series 9 was the best since Series 4. And Capaldi is brilliant in the role. Do you hear me, Melissa? BRILLIANT! BRILLIANT, I say! [Deep breath. Stay calm. Move on.]

Christine Bongers, author of Henry Hoey Hobson, Intruder and Dust, was completely different. Speaking about her life, and growing up in rural Australia, she related it all back to writing and to the shared experiences of her audience. She spoke with such laid-back authenticity, making her life and writing so accessible. She is a natural storyteller and her off-the-cuff style, no doubt making each audience member feel as if she was talking directly to them, was so engaging. Sitting at the back of the room, I could see kids nodding to each other and identifying with what she said. Pure gold! Again, I ran straight to the bookstore.

Presentations weren’t the only things on the agenda. There was a massive Prologue Party on the first night, which was open to the public, with free lollies, entertainment AND fireworks. There was an author meet & greet dinner before the festival and an amazing Long Table Dinner, with an evocative and entertaining speech from Icelandic author and academic Kári Gíslason, to finish things up. Oh my goodness, I still dream about the Table of Cheese at that final dinner. I kid you not, there was an ENTIRE TABLE filled with an assortment of cheese. (Damn… now I’m drooling on my keyboard.)

But the highlight for me was the Student Dinner, which allowed students some more personal interaction with the authors. Students were divided up into groups of 6-10 and sat at a table with an author of their choice for a carb-loaded dinner of pizza and pasta (Note: There was a salad on each table as well, but I don’t think so much as a single lettuce leaf was consumed.) with ice-cream and sprinkles for dessert. And then, 45 minutes to plan and rehearse a performance on an assigned topic, that was then presented before all attendees. It was a gloriously creative and chaotic experience, with added randomness. My group’s topic was “The Alien”, which led to a morality tale about alienation that still managed to include mind control, an arguing two-head creature, an irate Frenchman and, of course, Doctor Who. So much FUN!

Personal festival highlights for me included fellow Doctor Who fans (students, teachers and authors) seeking me out for chats; a plastic sword versus toy sonic screwdriver confrontation at the Prologue Party; and my two student minders Xenavee and Anneka. Each author had two students to look after them over the course of the event. With grace and good humour, Xenavee and Anneka made sure I was at my sessions on time, didn’t run overtime and didn’t get lost. AND at the end of it all, they gave me a present — Tim Tams and a chocolate Easter bunny. :-)

My Somerset experience was amazing! HUGE congratulations to the organisers!

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You Choose 7

It’s time for a reveal. James Hart has done it again — another awesome cover! I feel so lucky having an artist who really gets the books, working on the illustrations. So here’s the cover for Super Sports Spectacular.

The book will hit the shelves in August 2015. Can’t wait!

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Festivals, promos and other speaking gigs

2015 is shaping up to be a busy one in terms of speaking and travelling. I’ve hit the ground running with my first school visit and a radio interview last week. And there’s lots more coming up.

The visit was to Berwick Grammar, where I got to talk to all the Year 8 boys about my writing experiences and then took a smaller master class in short story writing. They were an engaged, enthusiastic and creative bunch of students. The school has a lovely rural feel to it, has some great teachers, and it’s logo appears to be a unicorn. What more could you want? Well… chocolates! They found out it was my birthday that week, so they presented me with a box of Lindt chocies. All gone now! :-)

The interview was on the 3CR programme Published…Or Not, which is a wonderful literary show that interviews a couple of writers each week. It’s well worth listening to. Check out the show’s webpage for broadcast times and recent podcasts (mine is the 12 Feb one).

I’ve got lots of speaking gigs coming up, including a promo tour later in the year to publicise the new YOU CHOOSE books. But what I’m most looking forward to is the 2015 Somerset Celebration of Literature. Held at Somerset College on the Gold Coast in March, it is one of the largest literary events for young people in Australia.

Over 30 authors and illustrators will be attending this event to talk about their work. And I’m lucky enough to be one of them! For a complete list of speakers and info on getting tickets, check out their website.

The festival has it’s own YouTube channel and speakers have been asked to create intro videos. Here’s my hopefully not too daggy one. Oh, who am I kidding? Here’s my very daggy vid…

There’s also an event later in the year that I’m very excited about… but I can’t tell you about that yet. I’ve got to wait until it’s officially announced. :-)

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You Choose covers

2015 has arrived and it’s time to reveal the covers for the next two You Choose books. Due for release on 1 May, they are Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars. As with the first four books, the covers and internal illustrations are from the awesome James Hart.

I love these covers so much. Can’t wait to see the books in print. :-)

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YOU CHOOSE in 2015

Okay folks, it’s announcement time! I am VERY EXCITED to reveal that there will be a seventh and eighth book in the You Choose series! They have been tentatively scheduled for publication in late 2015. Working titles are Super Sports Spectacular and Welcome to the GamesGrid. The whiteboard is ready and I’ve begun to take the first tentative steps in the planning process. Love watching that pristine whiteboard whiteness slowly being covered with cards and arrows.

I can also tell you that illustrator extraordinaire James Hart has come up with GREAT covers for books five and six, Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars, which will be published in May 2015. I can’t reveal them yet. But I can give you a teasing little taste…

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